Recalls are without doubt the biggest story in the auto industry this year, with about 52 million models – that’s roughly one out of every five vehicles in the nation – being called back by their manufacturers for safety-related defects. This total has already blown away the previous all-time high of 30.8 million units recalled in 2004; with another two months left on the calendar, 2014 could easily beat the previous record by 100 percent.
As our Forbes.com colleague Micheline Maynard recently reported, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is expanding its recall of vehicles equipped with potentially dangerous airbags manufactured by auto supplier Takata to include 7.8 million vehicles from the 2000-2008 model years built by BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota, with the possibility of even more models subsequently being included. (UPDATE: We’ve added NHTSA’s list of applicable models being recalled for faulty airbags at the end of this post.)
There seems to be no end to the number of cars being recalled this year, with a new initiative hitting the headlines at the rate of about two a day, according to CNN Money. Virtually all automakers – even some of the lowest-volume exotic makes like Rolls-Royce, Lotus and Lamborghini – have issued at least one recall over the last two years.
Perhaps it’s because recalls have become become far too commonplace, but a disconcerting number of consumers seem to be ignoring them altogether. More than 3.5 million used cars hit the market with unresolved recalls on their records last year according to the used-car title search company Carfax, with that number expected to swell exponentially during 2014. “Open recalls are a major public safety issue,” says Larry Gamache, communications director at Carfax. “In fact, our research indicates that more than one in ten used cars for sale online has an open recall.”
To be sure, the latest massive recall involving deficient airbags affects some of the most popular used vehicles on the market, including Dodge Ram trucks, Ford Mustangs, Subaru Outbacks and Legacies, Toyota Corollas, Nissan Maximas, Pathfinders and Sentras and Honda Accords, Civic, CR-Vs, Elements and Odysseys.
Automakers usually conduct recalls voluntarily for safety-related defects based on their own research, though sometimes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandates then based on investigations spurred by owner complaints and/or accident data. While many recalls are initiated to resolve serious issues that could lead to crashes, injuries or even fatalities, others can be more benign, such as when the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ sports cars were recalled in 2012 to replace a few misprinted pages in their owners’ manuals.
When a recall is issued the manufacturer is required to contact every owner of record for that particular model by mail. By happenstance, however, this usually excludes second or third owners. Fortunately, NHTSA recently launched a free online database that allows consumers to determine if cars they currently own – as well as those they’re considering buying in the resale market or are renting (the latter being an issue that’s woefully overlooked) – are at risk because of uncorrected safety-related recalls.
Available at www.safercar.org/vinlookup, users simply enter a model’s vehicle identification number. Also known as a VIN, it’s both noted on a car or truck’s title and can be found at the dashboard on the driver’s side of the vehicle, or on the driver’s side door on the door post. The system will list any unresolved recalls, or if there are none, will simply report, “No Open Recalls.”
Owners can also register their vehicles with NHTSA and be contacted automatically if a safety issue is discovered, via a downloadable app for Apple iOS and Android phones. The free app also enables motorists to submit complaints to NHTSA regarding possible safety problems with their vehicles.
Depending on the nature of the recall, you may want to limit driving it until the repair is completed; in rare instances an automaker may inform owners to leave the vehicle parked until a dealership can resolve the issue. For example, again as originally reported here by Micheline Maynard, GM is telling owners of the since discontinued Pontiac Vibe not to allow passengers to sit in the front seat until cars can be repaired over concerns about a defective airbag inflator.